How to Talk to Your Son About Pants

Image: Wellcome Collection

Each winter, a subset of boys, teens, and young men are afflicted with the seasonal delusion that their own masculinity is sufficient insulation against freezing temperatures. A telltale sign of this affliction is the young man who stands at the bus stop or quad in a puffer jacket and basketball shorts, leaving leg skin exposed to the elements and also exposing anyone standing within ten feet to a lengthy explanation of the ways in which his abnormal, hyper-masculine internal heating system leaves his legs without need of cover from the knee down all year round.

In order to combat the spread of wintertime shortpants disease in young American males, the Atlantic recently launched an investigation of the disorder’s causes in search of its cure. And the main cause, according to survivor Tyler Wood, is a yearning for identity unencumbered by societal pressure to be warm so intense it borders on addiction:

“There were days that got below zero”—when wearing pants would have been nice—“but it wasn’t even really a choice at that point,” he remembered with a laugh. “It’s like, if you’re going to wear shorts when it’s 30 degrees out, you have to be ready when it’s -10. This is your time to shine!”

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Other experts suggest that the phenomenon of the inappropriately pantsless American manchild could be an adverse reaction to the inherently feminine act of not being cold: “Wearing shorts—or perhaps more precisely, exercising the autonomy to choose to wear shorts—during what most people consider parka weather may feel to some kids and adolescents like the ultimate display of maturity and wardrobe independence. (Meanwhile...many young girls recognize soft, fuzzy outerwear as desirably, rather than revoltingly, cute.)“

If your son has begun to display telltale symptoms, such as an aversion to gloves or revulsion at the sight of hats, here are some expert-approved ways to talk to him about pants before it’s too late.

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Don’t ask him to wear pants

For boys flirting with the idea of demonstrating their bodies defy the need for warmth by exposing their bare legs to the elements, the very suggestion of covering calves and ankles could be enough to tip them over the edge, careening towards frostbite.

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Instead, experts like therapist and author Phyllis Fagell told the Atlantic that it’s better to investigate the boy’s wariness of trousers by encouraging a self-led evaluation of the preference by the child: “Start with ‘I’m really curious,’ or ‘I’m wondering,’ or ‘I’ve noticed that you don’t like wearing [long pants] in the winter. Tell me more.’” And because pre-teens are so often all-too-aware of the cocktail of internalized gender norms and underdeveloped brains that often inspires minors to make poor choices, the boy will most likely freely and honestly discourse on the myriad ways he feels stifled, physically as well as socially, by the expectation that he will wear long pants in cold weather.

Do use words like “sports” to strip winter wear of feminine connotations

If he does immediately identify the root cause of his desire, consider allowing him to continue wearing shorts in sub-freezing temperature by suggesting slight modifications while taking special care not to inadvertently feminize descriptions of those modifications:

“Sometimes a compromise like wearing sport tights under shorts will work for those children who want to wear shorts all year,” one pediatrician suggested.

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Don’t adultsplain terms like “cold” to him

To the teen who makes a personality of eschewing pants in favor of misery during the winter months, the mere suggestion of coldness could be taken as an affront. Approach him carefully, never suggesting that the human body might possess an internal warning system to indicate that temperatures are becoming unsafe. Allow him to tell you that his body’s system operates differently than that of other humans:

‘You’re going to be cold’—“that can make them bristle, because kids that age don’t want to be told how they’re feeling. They’ll tell you how they’re feeling, thank you very much,” Fagell says.

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Just let him do what whatever he wants

In temperatures that are merely cold and not freezing, experts agree that just letting the budding performative winter shorts enthusiast continue to pretend he is not cold presents no danger and is much easier than attempting to prod him towards a personality not based on arbitrary defiance of logic and sense.

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